What Role Did Geography Play In The Past – And What Does It Mean For The Future?

Another recent article explores the factors that drove civilization success. The article – along with a number of recent books – looks for historical signals that aid in our understanding of the future. In this case, the focus is geography, which the article positions as the reason both individuals and civilizations are the way they are today. If history informs our views of possible futures, then according to the article, geography has influenced history more than any other factor. The author uses Japan as an example.

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A Reimagining The Future Presentation

I have the pleasure of speaking in various forums about the future. It is a fascinating time to be focused on illuminating the path forward, as the pace, uncertainty, and complexity of our times makes it very challenging. This short three-minute video describes my reimagining the future presentation.

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The Journey Of Humanity

Since the dawn of the nineteenth century, a split second compared to the span of human existence, life expectancy has more than doubled, and per capita incomes have soared twenty-fold in the most developed regions of the world, and fourteen-fold on Planet Earth as a whole

Oded Galor – The Journey of Humanity

That quote comes from a book I just finished titled The Journey of Humanity. Author Oded Galor explores the origins of wealth and inequality. He takes a fascinating journey from our migration out of Africa, through the Neolithic and Industrial Revolutions, to modern day. Along the way, he describes how technological advancements and higher land productivity led to larger but not richer populations. The fact that standard of living improvement only occurred during a tiny stretch of recent human history – and the reasons why – are explored in detail. A somewhat perplexing fact that hunter-gatherers evidently lived longer, consumed a richer diet, worked less intensively, and suffered fewer infectious diseases, is echoed in the book titled Work by James Suzman.

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A Focus On “What If?” Versus “What Now?”

A quote from a recent book The Genesis Machine captures the importance of focusing on the future. “If we encourage ‘what if?’ questions today, we can avoid ‘what now?’ questions in the future.” As far as I am concerned, that quote says it all. Rehearsing the future is complex, given the uncertainty and volatility of the environment. Signals emerge from multiple domains, and they converge in ways that shape futures. As we identify signals, ‘what if?’ questions help us explore the possibilities.

Multiple sources exist that help with rehearsing. One such source is a what if YouTube channel. This channel has a large subscriber base and covers a broad range of topics like, space, humanity, environment, health, and others. Exploring these what if scenarios helps us expand our thinking, open our minds, and challenge our cherished beliefs – as highlighted in the quote above.

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The Future Of Mobility

In one of my posts from a recent series titled A Journey through the Looking Glass, I focused on the complexity, uncertainty, and volatility of our current environment. Although this dynamic makes it difficult to envision possible futures, the “Future of” question is a growing focus among leaders around the world. While many themes have emerged, mobility is a common topic of discussion. Current conversations are dominated by electric vehicles, batteries, and charging infrastructure. However, the future of mobility is much bigger than our current focus.

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The Journey: Living In Times Of Transition

In the wrap-up to my series titled “A Journey through the Looking Glass”, I will cover why this story is so important to me personally. As was described throughout the series, we live in a time of considerable change. A period that in my view only has a few historical precedents. I could be completely wrong, as I am not a believer in prediction – but the risk is too high to ignore. Through the years, as I have told versions of this story, I sensed that my audience felt no compelling reason to act. They had low levels of urgency when compared to challenges they faced day-to-day. It was that lack of urgency that pushed me towards more effective storytelling to change perception.

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The Journey: Dual Paths Of Innovation

In a continuation of my series titled “A Journey through the Looking Glass”, I will touch on two historical paths of innovation. The post picks up from the last one where I explored the building blocks of the future.

THE DUAL PATHS OF INNOVATION

Two major forces are likely to converge in very unpredictable ways. First, the road to abundance described by Peter Diamandis promises to advance our human development in ways not previously thought possible. At the same time, our journey will face several unintended consequences. The intersection of these two forces underscores the importance of focusing on emerging scenarios now, thus enabling human development and mitigating the risk of these unintended consequences.

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The Journey: Our Complex, Uncertain, And Volatile Future

My previous posts launched a series that will tell the full story of a reimagined future. Described as a journey through the looking glass, the story began with a series description and a look back in time. The series continues, with each post featuring a piece of our journey. We explored the potential for a phase transition in the last post. In this post, I will now explore the complexity, volatility, and uncertainty that inhibits our ability to envision the future.

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The Journey: An Historical Perspective

My previous post launched a series that will tell the full story of my reimagined future. Described as a journey through the looking glass, the story began with a description of the series title and a look backward in time. This second post in the series will add to that historical perspective. Each subsequent post will feature a piece of our journey.  

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A Journey Through The Looking Glass

In the last ten years, as my focus expanded, a story about the future emerged. If I were to write a book to capture that story, I would call it A Journey through the Looking Glass (like the name of the leadership course I developed in 2017). My presentations are the vehicle for this type of storytelling, while my Blog captures the story in pieces. Now, as we find ourselves in the early stages of a transformative decade, I feel compelled to pull the pieces together through the written word as well. My next several posts will be dedicated to telling this story. Here are the other posts in the series to date:

Second Post: An Historical Perspective

Third Post : A Growth Of Knowledge

Fourth Post: Our Current World Order

Fifth Post: Convergence Drives Human Advancement

Sixth Post: Catalysts Of The Past And Those On The Horizon

Seventh Post: A Phase Transition

Eight Post: Our Complex, Uncertain, And Volatile Future

Ninth Post: The Building Blocks Of The Future

Tenth Post: Dual Paths Of Innovation

Eleventh Post: The Next Phase Of Human Development

Twelfth Post: The Journey: A World Of Ecosystems

Thirteenth Post: A Great Reset

Conclusion: Living In Times Of Transition

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Signals To Watch for In 2022

Understanding possible futures is all about signals – and there is no shortage of them. A dominant conversation these days is focused on how to sense these signals, derive foresight, and respond. While foresight helps us see possible futures, the next challenge is moving from a high degree of uncertainty to some level of actionable certainty. That step in the process is a combination of science and art. Signals manifest themselves through the current and emerging building blocks that shape our future – and they are coming at us from every corner of society. Since I don’t believe in prediction, I will focus my year-end post on signals to look for in 2022 across four key areas.

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The Changing World Order

Ray Dalio is the Co-Chief Investment Officer & Chairman of Bridgewater Associates, In making decisions, he has found history to be very instructive. This is a recurring theme that I write about often, as I view history as a key source of signals. I’ve included links that explore these signals below. In exploring possible futures, it is helpful to understand the patterns of history – and they really do rhyme. In the book The Fourth Turning, the authors describe what the cycles of history tells us about our next rendezvous with destiny. What intrigued me as a Futurist is the claim by the books authors that our past can indeed predict our future – it’s a compelling argument when viewed through the lens of these historical cycles.

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RethinkX: Crashing Up, Crashing Down – Two Dystopias 

In this seventh installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib describe the choices that lie ahead, as convergence across five foundational sectors drive a phase change: energy, transport, information, food, and materials. With this convergence, the old industrial system could collapse before the new production system emerges. One need only look at existing timing issues as the energy sector transitions. Supply of fossil fuel drops along with investment, while demand increases and clean sources of energy cannot meet demand. In a shift so profound, it may be impossible to imagine what it looks like. The power of this storytelling lies in its ability to illuminate possibilities and drive awareness – and with it, the hope for human action. Similar brilliant storytelling can be found in the new book AI 2041.

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AI 2041: Ten Visions For Our Future

In a recent post on quantum computing, I referenced a new book (published in September 2021) that I recently added to my library. The book titled AI 2041: Ten Visions for Our Future was authored by Kai-Fu Lee  and Chen Qiufan. The authors use highly effective approach that combined fiction with expert analysis to help the reader imagine possible futures. The storytelling was brilliant (my compliments Chen Qiufan), and Kai-Fu Lee provides analysis after each story, showcasing his grasp of AI and its possible applications.

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RethinkX: The Growth and Collapse of Industrial Civilization

In this fourth installment of the RethinkX rethinking humanity series, Tony Seba and James Arbib describe a civilization that now stands at the precipice. We lose sight of the fact that we invented the political and economic systems of our time. When the organizing system is no longer suited for a new era, we have the power to reinvent. Reinvention however requires a willingness to look beyond our current beliefs, institutions, and mental models. If we view this phase transition through our traditional lens, our solutions will fall short. The power of this video series lies in its ability to illuminate the size of the challenge. This is not a story of disruption, this is nothing short of a phase transition between eras.

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RethinkX: Repeating The Patterns Of History

In a brilliant third installment of an eight part series, RethinkX explores the lessons of history. In analyzing the patterns from the age of extraction, the video zeros in on the cycles of history and the warning signals that should be flashing bright red. History is very instructive – but if we do not learn from it, we are destined to make the same mistakes. Consider for example the eerie similarities between the 1920s and our current day:

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The Building Blocks Of Our Future

In a post from 2019, I described the building blocks that established our modern society. It was convergence across multiple domains that shaped our current world. From the post:

A century ago, a convergence across domains ushered in unprecedented advancements in human development. As Robert J. Gordon describes, the special century (1870 – 1970) that followed the Civil War was made possible by a unique clustering of what Mr. Gordon calls the great inventions. The great inventions of the second industrial revolution significantly improved our well-being. In his view, the economic revolution of 1870-1970 was unique in human history, unrepeatable because many of its achievements could only happen once. What makes this century so special, is that these inventions altered what until then, was a life lived in misery. 

Frank Diana – Convergence

I captured many of those building blocks in a visual that I use to tell this story (click on the visual to open in a separate window).

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The Good Future: A Perspective Via Gerd Leonhard

We must make the right decisions now, if we want a good future

Gerd Leonhard – The Good Future is entirely possible, and it’s our choice!

That quote from fellow Futurist Gerd Leonhard comes from a recent film he produced to convey optimism about our ability to create a good future. He opens with several statements that are core to my beliefs about our emerging future. He states that what we have done for the last one hundred years is no longer going to be suitable for the future. In other words what got us here won’t get us there. It was back in 2013 when I wrote about the structural change expected in the future. Much like my belief that structures and institutions will change, Gerd believes that the current system is unfit for the future, driving the need for a different logic. He mentions something that he has been saying for years: science fiction is becoming science fact. In exploring the possibilities of a good future, he starts with a question: what does good look like? He proposes a definition of good that includes relationships, experiences, the planet, purpose, and prosperity.

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The Critical Need For Foresight

Foresight is growing in importance – and it is great to see leaders focused here. In this world of complexity, uncertainty, and rapid pace, generating foresight is not easy. It is a moving target, with change dynamics altering even the safest predictions. We need look no further than the impact of COVID-19 on the pictures of possible futures we were painting just 18 months ago. As difficult as it is, we are fortunate to have people like Alexandra Whittington around to help. She recently tweeted a pandemic influenced view of the future of population, work, and lifestyles.

In some cases, COVID-19 exacerbated trends that already existed. For example, birthrates were already dropping around the world, a phenomenon that grew more acute in the past 18 months. Africa was viewed as the outlier, contributing to future population growth even in the face of declining fertility rates. If the 2020 Oxfam study referenced in the visual below is accurate, a reversing of family planning gains could drive more growth.

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Thoughts On Adaptability And Resilience

As mentioned in my recent posts, it was 2017 when I participated in a discussion with TCS CTO Ananth Krishnan and CIO extraordinaire Hassan El Bouhali. An animated video was produced to capture a dialog that was initiated as part of an online leadership course focused on the future. The first post launched segment one, which focused on Seeing the Future. The second described the need to relentlessly Rehearse the Future. Given the number of shifts likely to occur, and the pace at which they arise, our ability to adapt is of utmost importance. Here is the abstract for this series followed by the final segment focused on adaptability and resilience.

ABSTRACT: Perspectives on the Journey

A key message in the Reimagining the Future body of work is that our rapidly emerging future challenges every aspect of how we do business, how we govern and how we live. It will drive significant strategic, tactical and structural changes and fundamentally alter our long-standing beliefs, success strategies and institutional constructs. We’re already seeing it. Just look at companies like Amazon, Uber, Airbnb, Tencent, Google, Alibaba and Facebook. They are rewriting the rules and redefining how value is created and captured, using digitally-centered platforms and ecosystem-enabled business models.

As complexity and pace continue to intensify, uncertainty increases and volatility comes to the forefront. Our daily challenges do not disappear however, making the balance between pragmatism and future thinking critical. I invited two business leaders to share their insights and perspectives on the complexity of this transformative journey and the leadership challenges that emerge.